Ofsted leaving La La Land

With the appointment of Amanda Spielman as Chief Inspector is Ofsted finally emerging from La La Land?

Is there at last an understanding that teaching to the test has caused catastrophic damage to many young people – both those who have been “off-rolled” prior to the exam season and those who have had to endure persistent coaching to improve exam responses instead of having access to a broad and balanced curriculum?

In her speech to the ASCL conference last week Amanda Spielman admitted that there are schools that have been teaching to the test, that have been preparing for exam questions for month after month, that have refused to enter young people for exams that they can’t “pass” with high grades, and that some young people have even been taken off roll to avoid a dip in attainment levels for the school.

This has all been done in the name of “quality” teaching and learning, in the name of “driving up standards”, in the name of “social mobility”, in the name of high aspirations and expectations.

If this isn’t La La Land, we don’t know what is.

Most teachers understand this has been happening. We all have our anecdotes – either as professionals working in schools and from our experiences with our own children, grandchildren, family members, friends etc.

In her speech, Amanda Spielman said;

“We know that there are some schools that are narrowing the curriculum, using qualifications inappropriately, and moving out pupils who would drag down results. That is nothing short of a scandal where it happens. Childhood isn’t deferrable: young people get one opportunity to learn in school and we owe it to them make sure they all get an education that is broad, rich and deep.”

Strong stuff, but HMCI Spielman is right. Moving pupils to manipulate exam results is “nothing short of a scandal”. Let’s also remember the thousands of young people who’ve had to put up with a curriculum that’s so narrowed, so contrived, so micro-managed that they haven’t been given the opportunity to learn how to learn, explore, imagine, create, ask questions and think for themselves. This too is “nothing short of a scandal”.

She continued,

“There is more to a good education than league tables. Vitally important though a school’s examination results are, we must not allow curricula to be driven just by SATs, GCSEs and A levels. It is the substance of education that ultimately creates and changes life chances, not grade stickers from exams.

Which is why we applauded the inclusion of “Personal Development, Behaviour and Welfare” as a judgement criteria, yet still await a comprehensive evaluation of how consistently this is being inspected and interpreted by inspectors. (Early anecdotal information is at best inconsistent, at worst, devoid of a proper understanding of this wider aspect of education and learning.)

We were also pleased to see Ms Spielman place such emphasis on the curriculum, and delighted to hear that it will be carefully scrutinised by Ofsted at the beginning of her tenure as Chief Inspector.

“From early years, through to primary, secondary, sixth form and FE colleges, this will explore the real substance of education.

We will look at how schools are interpreting the national curriculum or using their academy freedoms to build new curricula of their own and what this means for children’s school experience. We will look at what makes a really good curriculum. And we will also look at the problems, such as curriculum narrowing, and what we can do to tackle them.”

“Broad and balanced” shouldn’t be a trite phrase. It should be meaningful and it should always have been at the heart of a good inspection.


Amanda Spielman concluded her speech with a comment on the value of qualifications and how they are valued.

“When I was at Ofqual, I consistently said that qualifications were the mirror of education, not the education itself. And exactly the same applies to Ofsted judgements: they are a reflection of school quality, but they should never become the definition of quality.”

(Which is precisely what they were under previous administrations from Woodhead to Wilshaw).

Read her speech in full here.

Ofsted might also consider the following:

  1. Given the clear evidence that performance tables skew teaching and drive schools to adopt measures such as narrowing the curriculum and off-rolling pupils, shouldn’t Ofsted consider a recommendation to abolish the practice of publishing results, setting school against school – without reporting on the fuller picture of education?
  1. With the recent announcement on Relationships Education, how is Ofsted going to train its existing staff to recognise good practice in PSHE and give some validity to the Personal Development judgement?
  1. How soon is Ofsted going to remove “curriculum” from the “Leadership and Management” judgement criteria to give it a focus in its own right, as many – including us – wished to see when the new Ofsted Framework was up for consultation in Autumn 2014?
  1. Will there be a greater emphasis on Early Years and Primary education? Getting it right in these stages is a springboard to lifelong learning. Her predecessor wasn’t exactly on the ball with Early Years. If she feels equally unqualified will she consider appointing someone to concentrate on the younger pupils and/or ensure balance of sectors on Ofsted’s board?

There are many other matters for Amanda Spielman to consider but her speech this week was a good step forward and hopefully a clear sign that the days of La La Land delusion about the nature and purposes of education will soon be behind us.

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/ or see our website at www.3diassociates.com.
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